Dauphin company donates headstone for grave that sat unmarked for nearly 60 years

The grave of a Cross Lake First Nation woman that sat unmarked for nearly 60 years will finally get a headstone, thanks to the kindness of total strangers.

Kindness of strangers helps Cross Lake family find closure after relative's grave sat unmarked for decades

The headstone donated to the North family reads: 'No farewell words were spoken, no time to say goodbye. You were gone before we knew it, and only God knows why. Our hearts still ache in sadness, and secret tears still flow. What it meant to loose you, no one will ever know.' (Jeff Campbell)

The grave of a Cross Lake First Nation woman that sat unmarked for nearly 60 years will finally get a headstone, thanks to the kindness of total strangers.

Dauphin-based Provincial Granite donated a headstone to the family of Madeleine North this week. She died of tuberculosis and was buried in a Brandon cemetery in 1959 but the final resting place and details surrounding her death were unknown to her relatives until recently.

"To see this family have some closure after this amount of time, it will be a very emotional situation," said company co-owner Jeff Campbell. 

Ella Jane North, Madeleine's granddaughter, said her family didn't expect such gratitude.

"That was really something amazing," North said over the phone from Cross Lake. "That's something that we will never forget. It will always be etched into our hearts, the kindness of that man."

Madeleine, a 33-year-old single mother of four, was forced to leave her children behind in Cross Lake to be treated for tuberculosis in the late 1950s.

Members of the North family had been searching for answers into what happened to her for decades, when they received help from another kind stranger. Alana Langevin had no connection to the family but took it upon herself to do some searching of her own after seeing a post circulating on Facebook in 2015.

'Everything fell into place'

She tried searching online for "Madeline North," the way the family originally believed her name was spelled, but came up empty. She got creative and tried the different spelling of "Madeleine," which produced a hit that pointed to a plot in a Brandon cemetery.

"That's when everything fell into place," Ella Jane North said.

Langevin got in touch with the North family and the group visited the site together this past spring.

Cousins Sheila North Wilson (third from left) and Ann Mary Rose (second from left) join other family members on Mother's Day in Brandon at the unmarked gravesite of their grandmother, Madeleine North. (Sheila North Wilson)

The family learned more about Madeleine's final days in the months that followed. She died about 50 kilometres from Brandon, in the community of Ninette, and gave birth to a girl — Ella Jane North's mother — before she died.

North said her mother, who died a short time before they found the grave, would've been relieved to know they found Madeleine.

"We get to finally fulfil the wishes of our mother," North said. "As grandchildren, we never got to meet our grandmother. We didn't know who she was or how she looked.

"It was very important to us and something we wanted to do in memory of our mom."

Campbell said he and the other owners of Provincial Granite heard the story in May and were immediately interested in helping the family, which had already begun fundraising to cover the costs of a headstone.

They reached out to Langevin and made arrangements to get in touch with the family.

"She was absolutely shocked," Campbell said.

$2.5K headstone free of charge

The total cost of the headstone donated by Provincial Granite, which just set up a store in Brandon, is in the range of $2,500, Campbell said.

"To know the ongoing struggle this family had to endure for 50-some years of not knowing where their mother or grandmother was laid to rest, to finally have that little bit of closure, we thought that would be a small price to pay to help the family out," said Campbell.

Provincial Granite co-owners Justin Gamache (left) and Jeff Campbell stand by the headstone of Madeleine North in Brandon. The company donated the roughly $2,500 memorial to the North family. (Jeff Campbell)

Though they haven't yet met in person, Campbell said the Norths invited him to a ceremony planned at the Brandon cemetery on Friday.

He plans to attend.

"I'd like to give him hug and a kiss and just thank him for what he's done for us," North said.

With files from Isaac Wurmann